Bears fall short

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HERSHEY, Pa. | The Hershey Bears and their fans were ready for a party, a sweet ending to the Calder Cup playoffs and the franchise’s 10th title. But goalie Cory Schneider and the Manitoba Moose made this a sour night.

Schneider made 31 saves in Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals as Manitoba prevented Hershey from clinching on home ice with a 3-2 victory at Giant Center on Tuesday. The Moose cut their deficit to 3-2 with the series headed back to Winnipeg for Game 6 on Friday. If the Moose win that contest, they will host Game 7 on Sunday.

“We have a guy in our room there, that goaltender, that was just absolutely outstanding,” Manitoba coach Scott Arniel said. “While we were standing around being a little bit of spectators for two periods, he was putting on a one-man show.”

Even as the Bears outplayed the Moose for much of the game, Schneider stymied Hershey time and again. In a series in which the ice has appeared tilted in the Bears’ favor, Schneider was the difference in Game 5.

Manitoba prevented Hershey from capturing the American Hockey League’s top prize on home ice for the first time since 1980.

Several close plays didn’t go Hershey’s way, including on the Moose’s first goal. Guillame Desbiens batted the puck to the front of the net through a crowd of Bears defenders, then Michael Grabner corralled it and snapped it past goalie Michal Neuvirth with three minutes left in the second period.

And despite Hershey’s dominance for most of the game, it took a little more than a minute for Manitoba to strike again. Cody Hodgson, a first-round draft pick by the Vancouver Canucks in 2008, came down the right wing and ripped a wrist shot through a screen and over Neuvirth’s shoulder at the 18:07 mark.

Hershey got on the board early in the third period on a nice display of patience by forward Graham Mink. He took a pass from center Keith Aucoin, skated in front of the goal and waited as Schneider flopped to the ice. Mink then flipped the puck past Schneider’s outstretched arms and skated backward to the boards, staring at his teammates after the Bears finally scored on their 28th shot.

Mink’s goal riled up the sellout crowd, and Neuvirth was at his best in the third, but the Bears couldn’t score on a late power play, and a goal by John Carlson with 30.8 seconds left failed to make a difference in the result.

“A bounce here or there, maybe it’s a different story. Maybe there’s a party going on right now,” Hershey coach Bob Woods said. “I told the guys, ‘It’s just as fun on the road. It tastes just as good, the champagne and everything.’ We gotta go in there and give it everything we’ve got.”

Referee Frederic L’Ecuyer called only four penalties until a few late scrums, and while Woods was visibly upset, Mink didn’t want to comment other than to say it changed the dynamic of the game.

“It was pretty chippy out there,” he said. “There was a lot of stuff that he let go, and you get a feel early what the refs are gonna call and not call, and he was pretty consistent in not calling anything all night.”

Hershey appeared to be playing at a different gear than Western Conference-champion Manitoba in the first period. The Bears got plenty of quality scoring chances, especially in the first period, the best being when Aucoin was wide open in front of the net but couldn’t beat Schneider with a spin-around shot.

The Washington Capitals affiliate is seeking its 10th title, which would surpass the Cleveland Barons for the most in AHL history.

The most recent came in 2006, when current Caps coach Bruce Boudreau led the Bears to the championship. That team featured six current Caps players, including Mike Green, Tomas Fleischmann and Brooks Laich.

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